Lord Kitchener and Pan Music Have A Thing Going

by Les Slater

Republished with the expressed permission of the authors from:  PAN - Fall 1987 - Vol.2 No.1

Panorama reviewer: “Almost everything else was some version of the simple chord structure abundant in the music of Lord Kitchener... Kitchener's unwillingness or inability to provide the panmen with something new and different... no alternatives to Kitchener’s recyclable melodies...”

Panist Ken “Professor” Philmore: “The types of chords that Kitchener plays—and I think any arranger would agree with me on this—Kitchener plays the kinds of chords that you can explore and use your own imagination..."

In one fell swoop the aforementioned magazine reviewer bared his neophyte’s status and called into question all other commentary in a presumably well-intentioned critique. Say that Lord Kitchener can’t dance, say that his lyrics don’t grab you, say he’s too tall, say anything except that his musical concoctions custom-made for the pan feature an abundance of “simple chord structures” and/or “recyclable melodies.” Such a fundamental misstatement of musical fact is unpardonable in anyone who would offer judgments for mass consumption.

Ken Philmore, on the other hand, who has adorned Kitchener’s “pan tune” performances the past four years with his talented presence, knows what everyone else knows who is even slightly of musical bent. Namely, that the pan product outflow from Kitchener bears the unmistakable stamp of a consummate pro who meticulously goes about the business of keeping his commitment to furnish material that best appeals to the panist’s basic instincts.

Take a gander at the laundry list of steel band-themed or steel band-minded Kitchener compositions. Get under the likes of Symphony in G, No Pan, Pan in the 21st Century and it’s literally raining harmonic niceties all over the place. Psyching us into believing that the goody bag has been shaken free of all possible contents with leviathan efforts on the order of Pan in Harmony and Sweet Pan, Kitch somehow digs even deeper to come up with the “fierceness” of a Pan Night and Day. An absolutely sizzling Pan in A Minor for 1987 demonstrates how much he revels in the Kitch vs Kitch game of “Can You Top This?” Where does it end and what on earth is the motivation?

Alter ego Philmore, who says there has developed quite a closeness between Kitchener and himself as a result of their four- year association, offers an insight: “Kitchener can’t play pan, but he naturally loves it. I think he realizes that he has that special ability to create pan music because year in, year out, he listens to other calypsonians who do tunes that they think bands would take for the Panorama and he knows that he has an advantage.”

Kitch at home:
“I don’t compose road marches anymore. I compose party songs.”    photo: Carl Newallo

Kitch, for his part, would take you back to his very origins as a professional trouper to show the pan connection. When, as a young man, he left his native Arima in northeastern Trinidad to ply his trade as a maker and singer of calypsoes in the city of Port of Spain, he wound up living, as fate would have it, in a particular location (La Court Harpe) in the city’s East Dry River section, which was the home of Bar 20, one of the fabled early steel bands (such as they then were). “I lived right there with them,” he recalls, “so I was around the steel band since it was born. In fact since before it was born because at that time (1944) it was just a percussion band, with a bugle. They didn’t play notes, just rhythm.

An intuitive Kitchener saw a great future, even at that stage, for the rough-hewn assemblage that then constituted a steel band, and the first-ever calypso saluting pan music, The Beat of a Steel Band, was unleashed. “I visualized that in time to come the pans would actually be playing music,” he remembers with obvious pride. “In the composition I called the names of some of the players of that Bar 20 band— Zigilee, Pops and so on.”

Another pan tribute tune would follow shortly, wherein Kitch offered the budding musical novelty as the most potent weapon to throw into the fray to thwart Hitler in his march for power (“No bayonet no gun / Just the beating of the steel sure to make you run / Adolph be on your guard / When meeting the steel band from Trinidad”).

So that by the time 26-year-old Aldwyn Roberts and his Lord Kitchener moniker were England-bound after the Carnival season of 1947 with aspirations to “make it” in the Mother Country, there had already been definite signs of a special affection for the steel band. Even while in England, isolated from the developing pan scenario back home, his Beware Tokyo Beware would surface as proof that the ties hadn’t at all been broken once he lit out for challenging new fields.

It would be 1962 before he could deal with the pan syndrome from an up-close perspective. That’s when he relocated to Trinidad, late in the year, in time for Carnival 1963. The king of the Carnival road march (most popular tune) was back, and he dutifully did his thing for ‘63 with The Road. For the steel bands, the ranks of the music suppliers now included someone who had a real feel for what embodied the quintessential panist’s turn-on. It showed. In 14 Carnival celebrations in the 1963—1976 span, Kitchener came up with the road march title no fewer than ten times.

“Music is what I’m looking for. Once I get the music—those chords and that melody—then finding a theme is easy.”

Kitch readily acknowledges that he has, over the years, written particular music “with the steel band in mind.” As to the secret of his amazing success, there’s this elucidation: “I made the steel band a real study. I know the runs and the notes that mean something to the sound of the band. I can hear the sound of the tenor pan.” Given the record, it’s an assertion that is hard to dispute.

There are certain entries that have an undeniably “landmark” quality as one burrows through the Kitchener parade of pan targeted hits. There’s the extended melody of 67 in 1967, which sported the then-unusual device of a two-bridge verse, making for a multi-part creation with each element, moreover, having its own distinct character. Kitch believes 1970 to be the year he “began to challenge the bands.” The tune was Margie, which did indeed introduce a measure of chordal complexity not evident earlier. “I just kept on challenging them after that,” he says.

Kitch’s offerings in the decade of the 70s would culminate in a veritable cannon blast. Never one to shy away from reaffirming his abilities on the musical front, Kitch relates in the lyrics to 1979’s Symphony in G that “the players contacted me / For they thought I was just the man” when it was felt there should be a symphony for pans that Carnival. With its dramatic minor key beginning and on through to the clever use of patently classical lines in the chorus, Symphony in G has been hailed by many in and around the pan music world as a masterpiece. Ironically, 1979 would also be the year of a steel band boycott for Trinidad’s Carnival. Clive Bradley’s brilliant arrangement of Symphony in G for Desperadoes would assume legendary proportions not as much for musical impact as social commentary, when a recalcitrant Despers broke ranks to perform the number for pan-starved crowds.

But by the late 70s, anyway, the pendulum was swinging away from steel bands to brass bands and DJ’s as the major source of Carnival music in Trinidad. With the trend intensifying in the 80s, Kitch today says, “I don’t compose road marches anymore. I compose party songs. The way things are in Trinidad now, any of these songs could wind up as road march. But I don’t set out to write a road march as I used to years ago.”

He does, however, set out to write a pan tune, the focus, latterly, being clearly the Panorama competition. A turn of events whose wisdom is being questioned by more and more observers, the Panorama has become, for most of Trinidad & Tobago’s steel bands, the totality of Carnival. While acknowledging that there’s cause for concern, Kitch has been going with the flow. “It’s a difficult thing,” he notes, “something that will take some time to study.”

“I was around the steel band since it was born. In fact, since before it was born because at that time [1944] it was just a percussion band, with a bugle.”

Philmore has been in position to observe that Kitchener “takes a really serious interest in Panorama. If he has to be at the calypso tent (improvised theatre) while Panorama is going on, he has his transistor with him, listening to the bands. Not just to the various arrangements of his tune, but to all the bands. He listens and comments about what they are doing. Except for the conflict, because of his tune being played in the competition, I think Kitchener would be an excellent judge for Panorama.”

Kitchener confirms the avid interest and spells out the dilemma: “We can’t do without Panorama. The people love it. They come from all over the country for it. So you can’t just eliminate Panorama from Carnival.”

If they do, they eliminate the last bastion of the mini-epic that has been Kitchener’s annual work of pan art. Again, Aldwyn Roberts immodestly, albeit indirectly, touting Kitchener’s superior skill: “It is extremely difficult to compose music for the pan. You must have an idea of pan music. Pan music is not just ordinary music—and when I say pan music I don’t mean jump-up (dance) music, I’m talking about pan in competition—and that kind of music is not easy.” It could take up to six weeks, working intermittently, he reveals, to fashion one of his steel band-themed pieces. Not surprisingly, first comes the harmonic construction. Apart from knowing that the subject area is the world of pan, he generally has no idea, when he starts working on one of these “made-for-pan” specials, what the particular topic will be. Lyrics and a title are last in the process. “I know the kinds of chords I want in the tune — that’s all I know. And it might take me a while to put those chords together. Music is what I’m looking for. Once I get the music, those chords and that melody, then finding a theme is easy. The music is the hard part.”

The wonder is that with such a seeming obsession for steel music, Kitch is not himself a pan player. He is, after all, known among musicians as a more than capable bassist. But he is quick to point out that “I don’t know anything about pan—I can’t play it at all.” Philmore says he has often teased Kitch while they’re away on tour with lots of time to kill. “I tell him ‘here are the sticks; pick out something, man.’ But he never takes me up on it.” Kitch is evidently content to mount his musical sketches with the bass as the tool of choice or, to a lesser extent, the guitar which, as he says, “I half-way play.”

What of the future? This elder statesman of calypso, first of all, entertains no thought whatsoever of hanging it up. Alongside such resolve comes his commitment to continue to do material for and about the pan idiom (although it’s left to be seen how that determination might be affected by a rather convoluted attempt at copyright protection, vis a vis steel bands and calypso composers, that they’re now flirting with in Trinidad & Tobago). One senses, though, that Kitchener’s identification with the steel band culture is so strong that he will not easily be deterred from creating more music of the realm.

Kitchener, indeed, has been for so long the only consistently reliable “production center” for ready-made pan material of the calypso genre that a change in that situation would take some getting used to. He has suggested that, excluding himself, among calypsonians only the late Maestro (“he wasn’t ashamed to tell me he had made me a study”) appeared likely to have the capacity to routinely come up with prime fodder for steel bands. But a “new wave” of pan-oriented composers, spearheaded by Ray Holman and Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, might finally be ready to break loose and make its presence felt, after several years of relative obscurity. The copyright confusion could again be pivotal here.

Through it all—the changes, would-be changes or business as usual—Lord Kitchener remains a constant. He has been a marvel, no doubt about that. His association with the steel band phenomenon has been shown, quite emphatically, to be no fly-by-night affair. Perhaps it suffices as tribute to such unflagging dedication that Kitchener’s work is performed each year for Carnival, generally more than anyone else’s. But the sum total of his effort has been of such herculean dimensions that there should be some forum provided for more profound savoring of the Kitchener largesse.

Maybe sometime, preferably before he has written and performed his last pan tune, some enterprising and talented group of panists should prepare for public airing a full-blown Kitchener suite, encompassing the countless gems from his prolific pen over the years. Those who have ears to hear will be treated not to “simple chord structures” or “recyclable melodies” but a body of work that is, to date, the definitive representation of calypso, as the form, and steel band, as the medium, in the kind of rhapsodic mating that is only very rarely achieved.

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Republished from -  PAN -  Fall 1987 - Vol.2 No.1

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